Student: Toiveling is a spiritual cleansing and a way of recleansing, going back to the waters of the womb and rebirthing oneself. It was the first time and an undoing of my baptism as a baby and a mini-death in a good way. It was very hard because as a child I used to get multiple ear infections so my ear specialist said I musnât put my head under the water so it was a challenge to do that and I didnât do it properly several times. I lost count of how many times I had to do it before it was kosher. Part of me wanted to run out. I do feel new again. My Jewish identity feels a lot stronger.
Rabbi: Mikva is our most primal experience. On Purim they ate on the polluted vessels of the Temple. It relates to whatâs the life force and whatâs death, what blocks things.
Student: My family survived the concentration camps and my grandfather decided future generations would not be raised Jewish in case there was another holocaust. They were married in a church and I didnât know I was Jewish until I was 8. It really didnât mean much to me until I turned 40. When I found the baptism certificate I talked to Rabbi Hoffman about it. I wasnât happy about it. He said to go to the mikva. I also would have run out of there if the woman hadnât been so kind, helpful and non-judgmental.
Rabbi: There are men who go every day. A lot of people go Friday night to let go of the week. Behachalotcha. The river canât be dammed. There canât be a bent pipe. It can be water from the mountains. It canât be controlled water. The lower feminine waters longing for the masculine rain. Thereâs a kissing hole where the purified tap water kisses the rain water. Thereâs a wall between the tap water and the mikva water and the two touch in a hole in the wall.
The Nazi put barb wire and warnings of death for anyone who used the mikva and the Aish Kodesh blew it up with a stick of dynamite and used it. You have to build a mikva before you build a school. The workers who built the east side mikva said they had just built a skyscraper and it was easier than building the mikva. There were 18 different changes they had to make while they were pouring the cement. I was supervising the four rabbis and the workers. There are 18 different ways to build a mikva and there are different opinions. I put a plaque up there: you canât integrate any piece of Torah until youâve fallen there. Thereâs Sewardâs Folly and Hoffmanâs Folly. I got a Mongolian architect, a Harvard graduate. It was crazy trying to get him to communicate with a bunch of Jews.
I was standing at Babi Yar Ravine where 35,000 Jews were shot. No memorial at that time was allowed that had the word Jew on it. I was in the driving rain. I opened Sacred Fire and it opened to the psalm where it says here lie the great ones in the ground. At the funeral I opened to the same psalm. It was the Aish Kodesh was there comforting me in a broken moment. Psalm 16.
[Reads from page 318, March 19, 1942]
We are implicated by what we do and what others do.
Person: What is love of reward?
Student: Worshiping the idol of fame, fortune, intellect or whatever.
Rabbi: Rats in a maze avoid the shock and want the M&Ms. We want to show up, be present and doing things for their own sake. If weâre locked into the reward and punishment reward- The prison system uses this and it works very nicely but itâs very limited. Lishma is doing something for its own sake. It has to do with integrity.
Person: Iâm struggling with doing it for someone else and not for my soul.
Rabbi: Erik Erickson described it as integrity. There were Poles who surrounded the Warsaw Ghetto and they got a reward if they captured people trying to escape. They said you could always tell the Jews because they had fear in their eyes. The Torah has a concept of bribery. Bribed judgment is distorted judgment. Peopleâs brains are like a bribed judge. We have to have a sense as to what an unbribed mind feels like.
Person: The still soft voice within us. For me itâs when I pay attention to that.
Rabbi: Thatâs the voice of bina, a right brain function, good judgment which is not dependent on what you may get out of something. A level of moral development which allows people to go against the crowd in a difficult situation where if you help a Jew, for instance, you might die for it, and yet there were people who stuck their necks out.
Student: So itâs when something so becomes part of you that you almost have lost your ability to choose differently.
Rabbi: Knowing yourself is absolutely critical. The whole idea of the Torah is to be honest about where you are with yourself.
Person: If you donât know your limitations you canât see what your limitations prevent you from seeing.
Rabbi: Summarize Shavuos learning: King David, Blasphemer, Jesus, Lot and the three wives that King David stole from other men.
They were all exiled in some way from their communities.
Rabbi: they all had similar birth stories, a case of mistaken identity. Dovid is called the lover of G*d. We have a model of leadership, a person at the center of our religion who breaks all the rules.
Person: He is honest and he doesnât rationalize his breaking the rules. He is working in the context of who is and he is doing the best with what heâs got and he doesnât lie to HaShem about it.
Rabbi: Torah is about combining physicality and spirituality. Every mitzvah is about marrying the contradiction between the physical and spiritual. Moshe is about to hit the rock. Every parsha is about Mosheâs teshuva. Our leaders expand their dark side and share it with everyone so people have a model of teshuva for their own lives. They admit imperfections and show people how to work on imperfections. Rabbi Twerski was very good at it.
Dovidâs mother Netzevet- You can gum things up by trying to do the right thing. Davidâs father, Yishai/Jesse, was a stickler for the rules and decided that since he was descended from Ruth, a Moabite, he had to divorce his wife. He was going to have relations with a servant girl. He said since Iâm descended from a Moabite I should only have relations with servants. Netzevet, the name of Davidâs mother, means Stand Forth. She switched places with the servant. She was called a whore and David was called a mamzer. She had a feeling she was giving birth to the line of Meshiach. Tamar also had that feeling and she literally created the Jewish people. These are people who went against the people because they had a connection with HaShem and were sure of their purpose in the world. It canât be decided by what others think.
Person: Also Mordechai.
Rabbi: It is as important to know when to do the wrong thing as to when to do the right thing. If youâre worshiping the rules instead of HaShem youâve got a problem. You can worship your fears, your pleasures.
On Shavuos: we moved on to Nasso, the sotah, the wayward wife or the test of the jealous husband, take your pick. Cheese is a place where milk and meat can be eaten together. The kisses always come to soften the wine. You can find in every prohibition in the Torah thereâs a unity of opposites.
Person: The priests wore linen and wool.
Rabbi: People live in a fragmented world. They think, act, feel and say different things. Life is not a tapestry of unity; it is fragmented pieces. In bribery life gets very fragmented. The sotah was two people with broken hearts, husband and wife who could not get along. Drinking the bitter waters was life. Where else are there bitters waters? Miriamâs name means bitter waters, and there was the third day. Also when the Golden Calf was ground up and put in the water. Bitter water is fragmented life. Everything is judged by separate criteria; there is no tapestry. Finding your purpose, finding One G*d, having spiritual experiences. Pressing the defragment button on your personality.
Eric Ericksonâs Eight stages:
o 1.1 Hopes: Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth-2 years)
o 1.2 Will: Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt (2-4 years)
o 1.3 Purpose: Initiative vs. Guilt (Preschool, 3-6 years)
o 1.4 Competence: Industry vs. Inferiority (Latency, 6-12 years)
o 1.5 Fidelity: Identity vs. Role Confusion (Adolescence, 13-19 years)
o 1.6 Love: Intimacy vs. Isolation (Young adulthood, 20-24, or 20-40 years)
o 1.7 Care: Generativity vs. Stagnation (Middle adulthood, 25-64, or 40-64 years)
o 1.8 Wisdom: Ego Integrity vs. Despair (Late adulthood, 65-death)
Immaturity is when a man calls the wife and says âWhere are you?â Jealousy is the number one negative fantasy. All bad things generate from that negative fantasy, as opposed to the tenth commandment and whatâs sandwiched between it and the first commandment.
A lot of women who took the test wanted to become pregnant. Chanah said please give me a baby or Iâll become a sotah and then youâll have to give me a baby. This was chutzpadick but prayers have to be chutzpadick to catch your attention. That means you really want it. A big purpose of prayer is to hone your will: what do you really want? The Shemona Essray is about whether Iâm asking for what I want or what I need and what do it need?
Person: One of the rabbis said when we talk we connect to ourselves and when we listen we connect to each other. So when we pray we connect to ourselves.
Rabbi: Jealousy and infidelity can cause disconnect. Moshe sweetened the bitter waters by putting the tree of life in the water and they became sweet. Everything has an impression of the Torah on it. Everything you see and feel can be found in a Torah story. The Torah becomes a fabric for unifying this fragmented world. No guilty woman ever took the test. Itâs in there for jealousy. Only one woman died from it. She sent her twin sister to take the test. There was a residue of water on her lips. Afterwards they hugged and kissed and the little bit of water came into the mouth of the guilty one.
The second part of Nasso was the nazir, somebody who came to watch this woman take the test. Something in a person who wanted to watch an execute is out of control.
This week is about lighting the menorah. Aaron lit the menorah until the flames burned on their own and would light up all of Jerusalem. Itâs about how you light your own spiritual fire.
I remember taking that last piece of paper and getting it started with my last match. We were given only six.
SACRED FIRE PAGE 188
-And Aaron did soâ¦.
Rabbi: There is another model of the menorah. They all have flowers and cups. Hereâs the other model that is not rounded [45 degree angle]. There are seven midot. The center is offset and represents empty space. The empty space is the tzimtzum. Itâs like the light left an impression on the paper but isnât there any more. Itâs the impression of G*dâs light on the tzimtzum and itâs that impression that we have to detect in order the unify, turn all the contradictions into one and redeem ourselves from this fragmentation. The fragmentation is the breaking of the vessels. The light is tied to the light of the menorah. Why is that what Aaron is remembered for?
Student: I have to understand everything and put my own twist on it but not deviating is different.
Rabbi: Devorah made all the wicks. Itâs a symbol of a soul-catching fire. You have to nurture the fire until it burns by itself. Itâs your job to light your soul on fire. Your body is already on fire.
Rabbi: With the prayers. Every day we invite the Shechinah to visit us. If the Shechinah visits you it leaves an impression. You have to get into right brain davening. I think of a shadow of a woman in Hiroshima that was burned into a wall by the atomic blast. Thatâs what he means by an impression. If the Shechinah visits you during the davening it will leave a picture that will stay with you during the day. You can call back the picture all the rest of the day. There is spiritual carryover and the symbol of that is the menorah light burning by itself. If you can carry spiritual experiences past when the light is there, not when youâre in the meditative space of the shul but youâre out doing your stuff, and if you get a picture you know when the Shechinah visited your heart.
-The explanation requires a better understandingâ¦.
Rabbi: Giddin are also tendons.
-Translatorâs note: there are three types of addressâ¦.
Rabbi: Itâs tough like tendons.
-Rashi says that âAnd Aaron did soââ¦.
Rabbi: Itâs a contradiction. Itâs an unpleasant thing?
Student: He could be hagid and do it lishmah.
-Rashi is implying that even when Aaronâs lifeâ¦.
Student: He also did this when his sons died.
Rabbi: The Aish Kodesh is talking about himself.
Student: Bitter as wormwood is the death of his family.
Rabbi: When your life is bitter can you follow G*dâs instructions?
Person: A lot of people give up. It takes a great inner strength to overcome the loss, the depression and go on.
Rabbi: So many people gave up.
-The Jewish people are âthe face of the menorahâ¦.
Rabbi: when you light your fire of enthusiasm in davening and the Shechinah is inside your mind that influences your day.
-This means that the purpose of the menorahâ¦.
Rabbi: Orpah turned the back of her neck to Naomi and Ruth gave her her face.
-Aaronâs lighting of the menorahâ¦.
Rabbi: It would light up the whole city of Jerusalem. Malchut is puzzling because itâs empty. All the other attributes are full. Itâs the space you make available to say Shechinah Iâm inviting you in. Against the face is the other six. Malchut seems to be against. David is a contradiction to the other six. The Shechinah is HaShemâs presence. We donât have names for G*d, we have names for relationships. The question is is there any space in your ego for HaShem to come in.
Person: If someone studies to satisfy a craving, is that doing it for its own sake or a reward?
Rabbi: Study the eight levels. Itâs not so black and white.
SACRED FIRE PAGE 98
G*d spoke to Moses, telling him to speakâ¦.
Every person says this every day. Itâs the blessing of the Kohanim.
-We need to understand what this is hintingâ¦.
Rabbi: Because the Jews were threatened the whole covenant was invalid; if itâs under force itâs not valid. Shavuos is considered ineffective. We were given it on Shavuot but we received it on Purim. We took it in a situation where people said G*d has abandoned us. In those circumstances of extreme abandonment was when we could make an independent decision to accept the Torah. Itâs a maturing process. Little kids are totally governed by pleasure and pain. These are developmental stages and people get stuck.
The first stage of warm up in praying is reading this blessing to remind us that HaShem is blessing us. Itâs part of inviting the Shechinah into our prayers. We are quoting the priestly blessing but not giving it to anyone.
We believe that all the souls of all the Jews who live for all time and the converts were there are Mt. Sinai.
-A simple interpretation;â¦
We were free of death briefly until the Golden Calf .
If there was duress but the people accepted it wholeheartedly despite the duressâ¦?
Talmud says this was a rape because of the mountain being held over them.
Rabbi: What does he mean that only if the mitzvos turn you into a Jew? What does it mean to be transformed into a Jew?
Student: It changes you. Itâs not like putting on clothes, on the outside.
Person: When a person is in touch what their purpose is in life and theyâre working partnership with HaShem to be the best person they can be.
Student: G*d consciousness and Jewish community consciousness. We recognize G*d and that weâre part of a Jewish community. Weâre a piece of a whole.
Rabbi: It has to do with purpose and teshuva. Every mitzvah has infinite depth to teach you something. I could go shopping every day and doing laundry. I dislike those things. But when I do those things for Shavuos thereâs an intense joy. I have to feel the difference between the mundane acts of life and something I have made Kodesh and then I can call it my avoda, my work. Itâs a different kind of identity. There are mitzvos that transform you into a Jew and mitzvos that you just do because youâre told or some other reason.
-My grandfather, the righteous, holy rabbi of Lublinâ¦.
Student: This happened yesterday. Five small things made me whole and perfect.
Rabbi: We talk about giving birth to love. You have to work on them. The invitation has to be issued, the space has to be made. We have to sanctify our lives. Itâs not going to happen by itself. You have to conjure love up. I love the cherries. Thatâs good and Iâm going to work up.
-In the sacred literature on the verse in which Moses speaksâ¦.
Rabbi: How do you take from the animal in yourself?
Person: The predator.
Rabbi: The desire for food, money, power, the dark side, and make them Kodesh.
-It is impossible to do this when we are sufferingâ¦.
Rabbi: Thatâs why the Aish Kodesh had a soup kitchen and was the center of medical help in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Student: The Chabad guys to go the ends of the earth just to get one Jew to light a candle. I really liked that the Shechinah leaves an imprint on you. I like G*d making His face to shine upon you. Thatâs the imprint. The result is the Jews shine in the light, thatâs what the light of the menorah is.
Rabbi: I like using the word impression.
Person: I like the mistaken identity.
Rabbi: Do we know who we are? Do we know who other people are? What is identity?
Person: I like the idea of lighting people up.
Student: It was important for me to go to the mikvaâyou were talking about broken heartsâthereâs a part of my heart thatâs giving me a bad rhythm. Theyâre going to try to use a laser to burn it away. I had one attempt three years ago and it didnât work. Instead my hart stopped. It got to the stage again where this new doctor has suggested that he have another try with the laser treatment. Ventricular tachycardia and other. Iâm going to have it gone and itâs taking a lot of faith and trust in the doctor. He said it would be fine, and thatâs what they said last time. At first they couldnât get me in until June 6. I prayed for an earlier date and a few days they said next Friday. I would appreciate some prayers and good thoughts.
I want to write about my spiritual journey, so I applied for a scholarship to do a PhD in creative writing. The second time I applied I got it. I have to decide about my intentions before I accept it.
When I was reading the Aish Kodesh piece on page 100 I misread it, I read heart instead of head. Thatâs where I am right now with my heart.
Person: There was a TV show where a cop didnât want to arrest someone who was innocent so he did everything wrong during the arrest, like not reading the Miranda rights. This whole thing about G*d holding the mountain over their heads invalidating the contract even though they accepted it wholeheartedly is like that. The whole thing is confusing. Also, we are given our traits, bodies, location--weâchoose none of this. We are implanted with issues to work on. We donât choose these either. And then I look at other people and judge them or say theyâre wonderful, and Iâm looking at things they didnât choose. The only thing we choose is what to do with the things we were given. Also, in observance v. transformation, I think of transformation as dropping the pettiness and grudges, seeing potential, and removing my ego then taking the space made by that and filling it with G*d. Easier said than done.
Student: Itâs not about the rewards. What you said about bribes, the place between pleasure and pain, why we do things, figuring out what my soul is yearning to do. I like what she said about using intuition. For me that comes through prayer.
Person: How good it is that HaShem wants us to enjoy life. âBless them with children and money.â From money you get the kiddusha and the Sabbath. It is made to be enjoyed. Heâs telling you go out and live a good life.
Student: I like introspection and understanding in what Lishma is and doing something for its sake. So many times we donât even know our own agendas. I like the impression part. Connected with tzimtzum G*d withdraws but leaves an impression and the fragmented pieces. I appreciate a fuzziness. Exact is too hard. Thereâs more yearning in fuzziness; thereâs more longing when weâre not certain. I like what Aish Kodesh said about doing the mitzvos. Thereâs a longing there not just about physical action. I like bringing the Shechinah into your davening.
Rabbi: I had a great moment in my NAIROBA class. A Jewish boy said youâre the first proud Jew I met. It is different when a mitzvah transforms you into a Jew. Weâre Jews by choice. Itâs an ever-present journey.
Rabbi Henoch Dov Hoffman teaches in Denver, Colorado. He can be reached through www.RabbiHenochDov.com or email@example.com.